Virtual Bangkok – Wat Arun

December 16, 2012

I’ve been considering nipping over to Bangkok to do some urban sketching, but am losing heart by the day due to airline ticket prices: the next price increase is 21 Dec and after that, 28 Dec. Some flights involve a 16-hour stopover in Melbourne; direct flights to any city these days are a thing of the past. I suspect I could get to Kyoto for the same amount of money, a city I already know well, but who’d go to Kyoto for just a week or two especially when the flight can take up to 30 hours transitting Melbourne, Singapore and Seoul?

Intrigued by any new building or city, here or overseas, I like to train myself up by working from photos. Coming upon the building in reality is always a joy after having observed it closely at home. These days the numerous photos on Flickr provide a lot of valuable context; from the angles and positions taken to photograph a building, it’s possible to guess how one might sketch it in situ.

It’s not too hard to dream up a sketching itinerary: Day 1, canal boats and Golden Mount, Day 2 Royal Palace and Wat Arun; Day 3,  Wat Phra Kaew and so on, I’m wondering how reasonable a pace of 8 sketches a day, 1 per hour might be, or given the conditions, is 2-3 per day more feasible? In terms of somewhere to stay, I’d probably want somewhere close to either Siam Square or Central World Plaza, the largest lifestyle complex in Southeast Asia: that way I could nip back into airconditioned cool to eat and drink before heading out for more sketching.  Somewhere near the National Stadium Skytrain station too would allow me to get around easily.

Notwithstanding this, I’ve been practising with new media in a 118g sketchbook with blue-grey toned paper, a Strathmore Toned Gray 5.5″x8.5″ sketchbook, small enough for on location work in any busy city.

Wat Arun

So far I’ve been looking at a range of photos of the famed Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun. It’s a popular subject among urban sketchers in Bangkok, those who have been participating in Bangkok Sketchers which just celebrated its third birthday. The first involves sanguine, black and white, because I was wondering if the classic Three Pencil technique as used by Watteau could translate to drawing buildings. Additional colour via Prismacolor coloured pencils. The subject matter involved a photo taken either on the river approaching the wat or across on the eastern side of the river. The main purpose was getting down the main prang and its surrounding four subsidiary prangs. The light effects are due to the shards of faience ceramic which decorate the Mount Meru, though I’m confused about the cosmology here: a Theravada Buddhist temple with a symbolic Hindu Mount Meru. Need to brush up on my Buddhist cosmology!

Wat Arun 2

The next involves Staedtler pigment liner 0.1 pen (the thinner 0.05 is completely useless) with Prismacolor coloured pencil highlights. The gritty contour of the wat is common in urban sketchers’ work. The focus today was the two staircases up the wat and some differentiation of the several layers that make up the great prang. Is such a sketch possible in real life? I suspect the original photo was taken on the water, so it would be impossible to sketch this view as is in real life. The white unexpectedly seems to convey the busyness of Bangkok and the famed reflected light off this wat.

Wat Arun 3

The next involves the combination of pen (as above) with watercolour, touched up with Derwent pencils. Today’s new components were the white columns and red grill fence surrounding the prang. It’s important not to use the same white in the sky as in the land: the illusion of depth-of-field is lost.

Wat Arun 4

The last involved Derwent Graphitint which are graphite pencils able to be ‘diluted’ of their pencil marks with water. By contrast, I used Prismacolor colored pencils which are wax and waterproof for the sky. The bright sunlight of the original photo lent itself to distinct geometric shapes which of course were washed away with the water. The paper is too thin for water, so no more wet media in this particular sketchbook. Watercolour for sky next time, not pencil.

My original ‘vision’ is fading, just as my hopes of going to Bangkok are slipping somewhat.

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